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Universities quizzed over English requirement

Peter Vinthagen Simpson · 23 Mar 2010, 14:22

Published: 23 Mar 2010 14:22 GMT+01:00

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In a letter of referral sent to the Royal Institute of Technology, Gothenburg University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, the ombudsman has requested an explanation over why applicants for research positions were required to apply in English.

The ombudsman has responded to a report from The Language Defence Network (Nätverket Språkförsvaret) which campaigns to defend the use of the Swedish language in Sweden.

"I welcome JO's decision to look into it. One should naturally be able to apply in Swedish for a job in Sweden," Per-Åke Lindblom, the representative for the network who filed the complaint, told The Local on Tuesday.

In his complaint Lindblom refers to a previous ruling concerning applications for research funding in which JO stated that "it should always be possible to communicate with Swedish authorities in Swedish."

Lindblom argued that the case represents a precedential judgement in accordance with a new language law adopted in July 2009.

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The law stipulates that Swedish is the main language of communication in Sweden. While the law does not prevent the use of English and other foreign languages where suitable, the use of Swedish must be permitted.

"We are opposed to the routine fashion in which English is used, not the use of the language in itself," Per-Åke Lindblom said.

Peter Vinthagen Simpson (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

15:01 March 23, 2010 by livinginsweden
I see ... so there is no FREEDOM OF CHOICE at the universities.... must also be in Swedish..... umm

ha ha
15:05 March 23, 2010 by teslar
Excellent communication skills in English are a requirement for research positions. Applications written in English give a good initial impression of the candidate's skills. The end.

Of course one can't discriminate against Swedish and it would at least be good form and manners to accept applications in Swedish - but proof of communication skills in English would then simply need to be provided in some other form.

So in this case, the debate is rather academic (pun not intended... ok, maybe a little), since an inability to submit an application in English is a pretty strong indicator that the candidate is not suited for the job. I'm pretty sure the candidates don't mind having to apply in English - so why should someone else get upset?
15:10 March 23, 2010 by calebian22
Excellent communication skills in English are a requirement for research positions. Applications written in English give a good initial impression of the candidate's skills. The end.

Well said, teslar.
15:16 March 23, 2010 by Puffin
... as long as they can complete their teaching committments to teach in Swedish :-)
15:22 March 23, 2010 by tigger007
good comment teslar! english may not be the language of the land,but it is the language of the world. most researches are done in english do to the fact that most researchers speak english and not swedish. most researches will involve many different people speaking other languages,but english will be the platform for the researchers to communicate with each other.
15:41 March 23, 2010 by dsk734
I fully agree with teslar's comments but only to the extent that fluent English is in fact a legitimate requirement for the position and not an artificial barrier to entry (for example, in the opposite scenario, positions where 'fluent Swedish" is required on paper but practically, English and a decent knowledge of conversational Swedish would clearly suffice).
15:41 March 23, 2010 by gorgepir
First of all research is done in English, not Swedish. If you are going to do research that is publishable in prestigious journals, they seldom accept any language except English. Teaching is another issue, it may have to be done in Swedish, however that is not the job of a researcher, that is a side-duty. In other words, you can be a researcher only knowing English and zero Swedish, but it is almost impossible vice-versa.

Secondly, when will you Swedes come to face the fact that you do not have the necessary competence and enthusiasm in most engineering fields among Swedes? There are fewer and fewer Swedish applicants for PhD and Post Doc positions, mainly due to lack of interest. Make people have to have applications in Swedish and watch how the technical universities are removed from the research world. Your choice really.
16:04 March 23, 2010 by Audrian
I think it is a forward looking policy for two major reasons:

(1) The majority of world scientists including those in China speak fluent English. Swedish scientists who speak English fluently can exchange scientific information with the rest of the world without constraint. It is no always easy to translate all scientific knowledge into Swedish without distorting it. Sweden's ability to advance the interest of its people lies in knowledge-based technology;

(2) European countries are individually too small to influence world opinion. Their ability to make a difference at a world stage shall depend on how fast EU forges common independent policy rather than one that is an appendage to US foreign policy, which is aggressive and dangerous. English is becoming the language of choice for many countries in Europe. Those politicians who hardly speak English fail to communicate their views clearly. Simultaneous translation can help but it is not always readily available. If children learn English at an early age they can speak it as good as those native English speaking people; this can be done without loosing the Swedish language.
16:11 March 23, 2010 by suminh100
Maybe they could say.... applications in English is PREFERABLE :)
16:24 March 23, 2010 by wabasha
wow... perhaps the first time ive noticed that everyone commenting agrees with each other.
17:19 March 23, 2010 by StockholmSam

I disagree.

Seriously though, the JO has an obligation to pursue this because the law dictates it. The University should have to found a better way of encouraging English submissions without excluding Swedish. They should have been smarter in their approach because anyone could have seen this coming a mile away. Imo, the university was very clumsy here and showed a lack of foresight.
17:22 March 23, 2010 by glamelixir
@ teslar Imposible to explain it better. Tack!

And I have to say English is also my second language and I fully understand why it is so important if I want to persue a research career.
19:42 March 23, 2010 by 2394040
Strange. A number of these comments have spelling errors. I suppose accurate spelling is not an academic requirement.
20:08 March 23, 2010 by GLO
Well said all.. YOU ALL GET IT !!!

We still love to hear Swedish spoken...
20:45 March 23, 2010 by The Nine
Any good researcher is going to need strong English to liaise with colleagues in other countries. Look at it this way; If the job was a research position dealing only with colleagues in China, would it be strange if the application requested you submit it in Chinese? Surely those with the ability to do so are proving their suitability for the job in a practical way.
21:19 March 23, 2010 by svenskdod
This Per-Åke Lindblom character is quite the nationalist. I wonder if he wants Sweden to get out of the EU also? He is certainly scared of the English language taking over his little country, and any assertion of it gets his knickers all in a twist. Swedish is in no danger of taking a back seat, it is after all taught to children first.
22:03 March 23, 2010 by waybackwhen
"wow... perhaps the first time ive noticed that everyone commenting agrees with each other. "

Not entirely ! I totally agree that the Swedish language should have a defence dept.

While I totally agree about the importance of English as the international language in areas such as technology, research, travelling and negotiating, one can't get away from the fact that we actually live in Sweden. It is a country in it's own right with it's own culture and history.

I for one am sick and tired of ex-pats who have lived in this country 10-20 years and still can't put a sentence together in their host's language. It's usually these people who have the gaul to complain about what a sh*t country this is and how unfriendly the Swedish are ! If they had bothered to learn the language they might not feel so left out !

Languages should be preserved as they are an important part of a country's culture and history.

I (even though my mother tongue is UK English) am also tired of the Swedish language being diluted by Swenglish, Yanky slang for the most part and then applying Swedish grammar to it. Not only is it detrimental to the Swedish language but also the English.

The majority of Swedes now seem to think that "muffins" & "brownies" are the singular forms of the words. There are also the pronounciation errors such as pronouncing "rs" as "sh".
01:28 March 24, 2010 by kenny8076
i wish they had one of these language protectors in America, then maybe it wouldn't be ''Press 1 for Spanish, Press 2 for English on the phones!!!'' And when you went to McDonalds and order a PLAIN hamburger it doesn't continuously come fully loaded because like here, people don't want to/feel the need to learn the language and end up looking stupid. I'm taking SFI now and don't get me wrong it is hard as heck for me, but i can't run around EXPECTING these people to communicate to me in English.

waybackwhen.... your absolutely right about everything.
01:32 March 24, 2010 by delusion1982
seems the JO has really nothing to get himself busy with these days!
02:49 March 24, 2010 by waybackwhen
Thanks Kenny, appreciated.

Good luck with SFI. It's all down to practise and daring to make mistakes. It doesn't matter if you make a fool of yourself.

(this is the main problem with male ex-pats I think, scared of making a fool of themselves so they load up on excuses why they don't need to learn (and get an "US & THEM" attitude) and claim that English is enough to get a decent job and live here).

Dare to be embarrassed, make someone laugh. This is the best way to learn. And while you learn / make mistakes you earn respect - people will admire you for trying.
02:50 March 24, 2010 by IND
It is high time that Sweden accepts that they are part of a global community and to be competitive they need to have English as main language for at least higher studies. The workplace still has Swedish as the work language, what-ever the companies might claim about corporate language. I think Swedish as main study language medium is a big reason for this.
10:48 March 24, 2010 by Audrian
Re waybackwho

Nobody in his right mind would say that Swedish language shoud cease to exist. It should continue to be as important as it is. At the same time we are saying that the Swedish people should development a more than good language skill for a second language, which by accident of history is English.

China is sending about 60,000 people per year to study in America.
13:56 March 24, 2010 by pjtaipale
2394040: "Strange. A number of these comments have spelling errors. I suppose accurate spelling is not an academic requirement."

I suppose that this discussion is not exactly academic research. This is more like chit chat where you type into a tiny comment box.
15:47 March 24, 2010 by bobnbri
Anglophobia has never and will never contribute to the socioeconomic advancement of any country period. It is an emotional and not a rational issue. International trade finance and the sciences all communicate freely in the english language simply because it is the most convenient language to use.

Instead of thinking about english as some kind of imposition being foisted on you, think of it as a simple communications tool that opens doors to you the world over.
14:01 March 25, 2010 by dsc
I would have thought people who have a firm belief of evolution should not have a problem understanding the replacement of one language by another in this case is inevitable. Blame Darwin.
09:19 March 26, 2010 by Zevdokat
bobnbri....you are wrong! Take the EU Presidency in Sweden as an example. In the round table ministers meetings, most countries (including Sweden) debated various issues in their native tongue. Ministers could then listen in their language via headsets linked into an array of translation booths, then respond again in their own language. It was a very impressive network of translators and slightly delayed responses.

Similarly, the United Nations has six official languages: english, french, arabic, chinese, russian & spanish.

Obviously such an elaborate setup is not always possible as it is too expensive. Therefore i certainly agree that researcher should always have a strong understanding of the english language.
14:24 March 26, 2010 by Vendorune
I think Sweden's greatest resource is its culture.
16:37 March 26, 2010 by MichaelZWilliamson
English does not borrow from other languages. English stalks other languages down alleys, clubs them, and goes through their pockets for loose vocabulary.
14:57 March 27, 2010 by bobnbri

My comment was based on my personal and professional experiences in international trade and finance. I am not wrong at all. I am in fact VERY RIGHT!! I transact trades in futures, currencies and other derivatives in NYC, Chicago, Frankfurt, London, Paris and Hong Kong. We e-mail in english and talk on the phone in english.

If I didn't have a mastery of english, I could never do my job!! Neither could my foreign colleagues!

And lastly, I made absolutly no comment concerning international deplomacy, the EU presidency or the UN what so ever.

I make my comments based on what I DO KNOW and not on what I presume to know.

12:15 March 28, 2010 by jarangade
Interesting to read all your comments here.

In my experience of travelling, i believe the Europeans are very proud (in a good way) of their language. They are very passionate about their culture as well.

I come from a tiny country where there are many different ethnic groups and English has been made (many years down history) as a common language. Reason. Simply so that everyone can understand each other.

I agree that in certain industry English is mandatory and to be able to speak a good amount of English is advantageous. Let me site and example in my school. I had a classmate who enrolled in the swedish class. Most of us are able to speak English. It is very challenging trying to explain to this one particular classmate who neither speaks English nor Swedish. And unfortunately, if one misses a session, one misses a lot of things. We were trying very hard to help her and we wouldn't know if she understood us (you can imagine the body language and the non-verbal cues we used). And she didn't turn up for the following sessions. We were not sure if she felt left out.

Yes, language is something that one must practice and be courageous to make mistakes and learn from it. And i must say, the Swedish people that i met in the streets or at the shopping mall, they do appreciate it if you try to speak even if it's grammatically wrong.

I disagree with other people saying that Swedish people are unfriendly. They ARE friendly!

My personal view is when one has the interest to learn a new language eg. Swedish. One must learn, understand and embrace the culture and history as well, and one must be brave and confident enough to immerse oneself in that culture to be able to have a depth of appreciation for that particular culture. Of course, i'm not saying that one should discard one's very own cultural beliefs, etc..

There's no wrong or no right in terms of pronounciation of words like "sk" or "rs". That's what makes the language so beautiful and unique. And there's no such thing as driving "on the wrong side of the road", just driving "on the other side of the road". :)

21:36 March 29, 2010 by dmj123
While i must admit that I do not know a word of swedish, (my interest in sweden is due to having a great grandmother from there), I do have a joke that is very relevant to this discussion which a mexican told me years ago.

What do you call a person who speaks three languages?


what do you cal a person who speaks two languages?


What do you cal a person who speaks one language?

14:02 May 5, 2010 by schweinefettmann
if the universities are allowed to publish advertisements for their jobs in only english, it sends quite a clear message to the rest of sweden and the world that english is becoming a main language of sweden. it could be seen as a slippery slope towards the swedish language moving aside for english on the pretense of convenience for the rest of the world.

surely all this could be solved if the universities would just allow applications to be done in either languages.
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